Hundreds Face Uncertain Future
Newark NJ— Workers set to receive a hard-won wage increase at Newark Liberty International Airport now face layoffs and reassignments thanks to new contractor, United Ground Express (UGE).
800 workers who provide critical services – ticket agents, security, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners and baggage handlers – received layoff notices just before the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved an historic phase in of a $19 minimum wage in September.
About 75 of these workers still don’t know if will have jobs as the services transition to UGE, a subsidiary of United Airlines, from ABM Aviation. The workers were told they would have to reapply for their jobs with UGE. Not all have been rehired and some have been reassigned. Most make $10.45 an hour even after years of service. Meanwhile the first increment of the raise – won after a nearly seven year effort – went into effect November 1.
“It’s cruel that workers had the rug pulled out from under them just as they were finally scheduled to get their raises,” 32BJ SEIU President Héctor J. Figueroa said. 32BJ represents the workers. “This is just another tool in a ‘race to the bottom’ to hold down wages and pit workers against one another even as corporate profits soar.”
Now UGE is making the workers train their replacements before they themselves are either reassigned or laid off.
“These workers are on the front lines of airport security – at a time when that is critical – yet this employer seems to have no concern for continuity and experience on the job,” Figueroa said.
Aaron Martin of Newark has worked to maintain security and order in airport lines for 14 years but was told he was being reassigned to wheelchair attendant. “Why do I have to go to wheelchairs when they’re putting new people in my job?” asked Martin, whose hourly wage went from $10.60 to $12.45 under the first incremental boost.
Yasmeen Holmes has worked the lines for 16 years. The Newark mother of five makes $10.45 an hour and works double shifts most days to make a living wage. She has not yet heard if she will be hired by the new contractor.
“We finally won the raise and they want to bring in newcomers? said Holmes. “I have no government assistance and no medical benefits. I just want to make ends meet,” she said.
With 163,000 members in 11 states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country